Leave me alone

I am not one for following celebrities. I find the scene irritating and shallow. Not to mention fickle. Today’s darlings are tomorrow’s sources of mockery. Elevated or torn to shreds by tabloid one-liners. Airbrush or not to airbrush? Depends on whether people love to love them or love to hate them. And somehow, we think we know them, and have the right to pass judgment on them.

This morning I caught some of a video history of Michael Jackson on Rage. It was a walk through his catapult to fame. The collection of clips marked the sad transition from a charming energetic little boy to reedy slick-moving teen, to eighties pop icon, culminating with a slow diminishing of the man himself. One of the clips stood out to me – “Leave me alone“. An old song, but I have never heard it or seen it before. The clip is startling because it features all the nasty headlines, innuendos, aspects of him that have been regularly mocked. Throughout the clip it seems he pleads “leave me alone”. It saddened me.

He is now dead. And still not left alone, as jokes, media etc pick over the bones to see what will sell another magazine. He certainly had issues. But how can we separate that from falling into the hands of the cult of celebrity, our need to create and elevate others to superhuman proportions. When they can’t handle it, we tear them down.  The results can be catastrophic.

I would not have liked to walk in his shoes.

Dig it

We recently acquired Nick Cave’s new album “Dig Lazarus Dig”. I found it somewhat jarring at first. I think I prefer Cave’s ballads – to me they best suit his sultry voice and brooding subject matter. But I have to say it is growing on me. And once again he stirs me to think.The wikipedia references Cave as saying this about Lazarus and the inspiration for the title track:

“Ever since I can remember hearing the Lazarus story, when I was a kid, you know, back in church, I was disturbed and worried by it. Traumatized, actually. We are all, of course, in awe of the greatest of Christ’s miracles – raising a man from the dead – but I couldn’t help but wonder how Lazarus felt about it. As a child it gave me the creeps, to be honest. I’ve taken Lazarus and stuck him in New York City, in order to give the song, a hip, contemporary feel. I was also thinking about Harry Houdini who spent a lot of his life trying to debunk the spiritualists who were cashing in on the bereaved. He believed there was nothing going on beyond the grave. He was the second greatest escapologist, Harry was, Lazarus, of course, being the greatest. I wanted to create a kind of vehicle, a medium, for Houdini to speak to us if he so desires, you know, from beyond the grave.”

Further confirmation that the bible is full of stories that are not really “kids stuff”. Thanks Nick, for reminding us what a story might look like from the perspective of a child. Fresh life can be found in the seemingly most unlikely of places.

As this article from the Age puts it: “perhaps minstrels will convey something to us that ministers cannot”.

I am not wanting to read too much into Cave’s morbid musings about a dysfunctional Lazarus who crashes and burns with the pressure of his miraculous second go, but never-the-less, Cave’s work is rich with spirituality, and much of it speaks with a prophetic albeit uncomfortable edge.

Thy will be done

I have just finished watching Capote.  A disturbing film on many levels.  The moment that has prompted this post is disturbing indeed, the final moments of a killer’s life before he himself dies at the hands of another.  A priest prays strongly as the fearful yet calm man’s face is shielded in black and the noose is put in place.

  “Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be Thy Name

Thy will be done,  on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

The voice trails off as the deed is done.  The words echoed in my head.  Thy will be done.  It left me wondering why the Lord’s prayer is used in this way.  Who is it intended to comfort, redeem, or perhaps excuse?  Maybe it is more comforting for the executioner, the decision makers, those who look on.  A horrible act may seem less so if it one believes it to be the will of God.  They way it was captured in this film seemed to legitimate the action, to leave no alternative for the man who paid the price for his crimes.

The context seems wrong.  A prayer for and about life is married to death.  Possibly all because of the line ‘Thy will be done’.  Four words used to imply legitimacy to an act of murder.  Perhaps it would be more appropriate to quote “an eye for an eye…”

 

Sorry for this brooding post! I am curious to know the historical context for prayers like this being associated with capital punishment.

Lest we forget

We have had a German theme to our tv viewing since Christmas. My brother-in-law gave us the documentary “Hitler’s Medics” – a gruelling insight into German science – thorough, dispassionate, and in some cases, utterly horrifying. Some of their research and findings gained from Jewish victims is influential today, and brutally raises questions about the morality of science. Next up was a rewatch of Downfall – the second film ever made by Germans about the war. This was a gritty film of madness, death, murder and suicide, and depicts the last seven days in Hitler’s bunker, from the perspective of his secretary. A very interesting but disturbing film that arouses conflicting emotions towards Hitler, possibly the most reviled figure of the 20th century. Last night we watched Das Boot – (The Boat) – the first German film about the war. It was set in a submarine. Of the 40,000 men in German submarines during the war, 30,000 did not return. The tense, close drama seems typical of films in confined spaces. It was a very different picture to that normally seen of Germans during the war. It told the story of boys barely men and their struggles to survive deep in the ocean as they carried out orders. One image I will not forget is of a ship they had successfully attacked. They rose to the surface to watch it burn, and saw men in flames diving overboard. The now bearded boys were disturbed by the scene, and one glimpes both the humanity and inhumanity of war in their flame-lit faces. This film makes one forget about taking sides in war.

I have always been interested in the Holocaust, even as a young teen. In early secondary school I read every book I could get my hands on, and even attempted to write a short story which no doubt was a poorly combined hotch-potch plot of the books I had read! I guess I have a familial link to the tragedy of Nazi Germany. My Oma and Opa married in Nazi Germany, and were imprisoned because it was a mixed marriage (Opa was Dutch). I don’t know their story but would love to. For some reason the stories of survivors have resonated deeply within me. The most impacting book I have read is “Night” by Elie Wiesel.

Most of the survivors of the Holocaust are now elderly. While I don’t think it is helpful to dwell on the past, remembering it and the capacity of humanity for unspeakable evil is sobering. In a way, it keeps us in our place. The Western world loves to think of itself as beyond atrocity, as more civilized than 2nd and third world countries. But the Holocaust is not that long ago. The ingredients that lay at its roots including prejudice, fear of “other”, desire for conformity and social control are alive and well today. Genocide is not a thing of the past. We in the west watch it on our tvs as we go about our daily lives, perhaps thinking it could never happen amongst us. The Holocaust reminds us that it can, and did. Next Saturday, the 27th of January, is International Holocaust Day.

“…to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all…” – Elie Wiesel

U2 can be a prophet…

In biblical times the prophet was a weird beast – someone who dined on locusts and wild honey, dressed in the skins of wild animals (if they dressed at all), someone whose peculiar actions made people stand up and take notice as they communicated God’s messages to His people. I believe God still speaks to us today through prophets, albeit in unlikely packages. Consider the drawings of Leunig and his remarkable insights into our culture and the struggles of humanity. Or listen a while to the sultry tones of introspect Nick Cave as he reflects on God in the house. And the modern day prophet may also wear sunglasses 24/7, singing about “when love comes to town”. Maybe calling musician and activist Bono a modern day prophet is going too far. However, love him or hate him (I am of the former since the release of the all time fave “Joshua Tree), Bono is standing up and saying a few timely words to the leaders of our nations, and the world is noticing. Check out his speech at the Presidential breakfast. Bono calls for justice not charity. A standout comment for me was his reflection on blessings. How often do we as Christians seek God to bless what we are doing? Bono brings an appropriate correction to this – lets seek to join in what God is doing – it is already blessed.

Everything is illuminated

Everything is illuminatedLast night I hired the movie "Everything is Illuminated" starring Elijah Woods of "Lord of the Rings" fame. To be honest, I struggled for a fair while to get the baleful image of Frodo out of my mind. However, the lack of hairy feet, no long locks of hair and and the absence of elves was a great help. The film is based on a book by Jonathan Safran Foer (the same name as Elijah's character) and is said to be about searching. I spent the first part of the film trying to cope with the incredible size of Jonathan's glasses, and it occurs to me now that their overstatement fits in rather nicely with the broad narrative of his search for information about his family. Jonathan is a Jewish American who has an bizarre obsession with collecting things. He is on a mission travelling through the Ukraine trying to find a woman who saved his grandfather from Germans during the war. The author did actually undertake the trip but found out very little. However he decided to write a novel that formed the basis for this movie. Some initial thoughts on the film:

1. the Ukraine looks beautiful – wonderful landscapes, and the film features some great cinematography. A great setting for a road movie.

2. There is an amusing restaurant scene that does not promote the local cuisine, and I do believe as a "mostly vegetarian" I would starve.

3. The plot is undeniably clever, and I loved the way the lives of the rather eccentric characters end up being entwined. Jonathan is driven around by an old man who claims to be blind and insists on his vicious "seeing eye bitch" (a dog) coming wherever he goes. The old man's hip hop (Ukraine style) America loving grandson comes along for the ride (and to offer cumbersome English translations). Elijah Woods character is extremely exentric and obsessed with collecting the weirdest of things.

4. I have always been interested in stories about the holocaust. It is a period in history that fascinates and horrifies me in equal measure. This was a quirky and at times poignant exploration of this incredible period of history.

Searching. Remembering. These are important themes in "Everything is illuminated", and I think rather significant in the broader Jewish narrative. Remembering is like a thread that links much of the bible and ancient Jewish history together with varying responses – remorse, hope, encouragement, gratitude, despair, reconciliation. These emotions resonate through this film. There is a rather shocking twist towards the end that in spite of its bleakness seems to bring a peaceful resolution in the film.

The film was definitely worth seeing, especially if you like "quirky". I don't think I will forget this film in a hurry. Not so much for any quality it possesses, but because our hired DVD appears to have vanished off the face of the earth and we will have to buy a replacement for our video store. I guess it is a bit ironic. The film is about searching, and that is precisely what consumed our afternoon. If only the location of the DVD will be illuminated…

God is in the house

On the weekend I read an interesting article in The Age (Saturday's A2) called "Digging to the soul", by Chris Fotinopolous. He quotes Nick Cave as saying "God deserved much better than what He has been getting". A bit of a sad indictment on Christian music, yet something about it resonates truth for me. Chris writes that the Christian pop song is "essentially a morality tale told dishonestly", and is usually heard on tv shows by evangelical preachers "arguing for the preservation of a social institution known as God's Kindom, a morally insular and homogenous place where the cries of the lost and forgotten do not reach the ears of the occupants." I wan to protest and say this is not so, the very heartbeat of the Kingdom is to embrace the lost and forgotten. Yet I think the words are readily drowned out by yet another cheesy lyric of self actualising faith statement, hallelujah. Nick Cave wrote a very provocative song called "God is in the house", on his mellow "No more shall we part" album. You can read the lyrics in full here. The sentiment expressed cuttingly by Cave as he writes that there is no cause for doubt or fear as "God is in the house". Outside the house are the broken – sexually, chemically, morally.

At the end of the song comes the sting in the tail.

" For no-one's left in doubt
There's no fear about
If we all hold hands and very quietly shout
Hallelujah
God is in the house
God is in the house
Oh I wish He would come out
God is in the house".

Mournfully (in lyric and voice) Nick wishes that God would come out. In this song Nick has the ring of the prophet – he shines an peircing light into an attitude that pervades the church and sorely needs correcting. As the Age writer intimated, the Kingdom of God is not to be reduced to little Christian feel-good enclaves. Jesus himself said he did not come for those who are well, but for the sick. It is time for us to stop wishing that God would "come out" of the house (as if we could contain Him), and join with Him amongst the broken and the lost.

Hotel Rwanda

I have just finished watching Hotel Rwanda on DVD. I am overwhelmed by the horror of it. The senselessness of slaughter resulting from colonially orchestrated racial tension. The exodus of many Westerners, including the ministers of religion. The apparent impotence of the rest of the world, bystanders.. One comment hit hard. Paul, the main hero of the story was convinced that seeing the horrendous footage would move the West to act. The white reporter told him that the world would watch the evening news, and get on with their dinner. lt was not until the film was over that the cold truth struck me. ln 1994 l was an adult. l would have seen the news and got on with my dinner. God forgive my apathy.

The case of the missing Beatles box


The Beatles had enjoyed superstardom long before I had any inkling of their existance. I have vague memories of playing "We all live in a yellow submarine" on my recorder at school, but that sums up my early Beatle recollections.

Lennon was assassinated on the 8th of December 1980, but I can't recall it happening. I was ten years old. However, I do remember the day Elvis Presley died, 16th August 1977. I have some vague memory of my mother working outside. She heard the news and became very upset.

My dad has always loved music and managed to maintain a fair working of knowledge of contemporary music over the years. Like many of his generation, he was a fan of the Beatles, and was rumoured to look like one of them (George Harrison) in his youth. My dad used to run a competition where if my mother, my siblings or I could guess the name and artist for a song, we would be able to earn money. Needless to say, I became an expert on music from the sixties and seventies, including the Beatles.

The Beatles occupied a back seat for most of my adolescence, giving way to all the musical delights of the synthesised '80s. All that changed when I got my first car, a bright yellow Corolla. Or rather, it changed when I got my first stereo. Starved of music to play, I borrowed my dad's Beatles Box – an eight cassette compilation of many songs. This was when I fell in love with them. The Beatles were all that I listened to on the long drives to university. Not the "I want to hold your hand" stuff. It was the weird and wonderful tracks that hooked me.
"She's leaving home" … "The fool on the hill", "I am the walrus" (what was that about?)… "Happiness is a warm gun"…"I'm so tired"… Carry that weight"… "Golden Slumbers"…"Got to get you into my life"…"I'm looking through you"… "In my life"…

So many songs. I will not bore you with listing any more! Now, as a wannabe guitarist, it gives me great pleasure to attempt to play the songs. And that is the root of my appreciation for their brilliance. Simple and complex chords, beautiful melodies that seem just as impressive today as when they were written. This defined the sound of the Beatles. There have been many bands since that have emulated them accidentally or unintentionally, and many of them seem to come from the UK. Notable examples include Oasis (especially the "What's the story morning glory" album, Blur, and even a track of the new Franz Ferdinand album (check out "Eleanor put your boots back on").

I guess I am still a fan, although I don't own many albums. Nor do I own the Beatles box collection any more. Over the years my dad has wondered where the cassettes are. I haven't been brave enough to tell him that I wore them all out! If they bring out a CD edition, it could be a very good Christmas present option for him next year…

Narnia

This afternoon I went to see Narnia. It was probably not as good as I had anticipated, as far as big block-buster special effects movies go. The lion was not always believable, and it didn't feel other-worldly enough for the vividly imagined Narnia of my childhood. The children acted fairly well, certainly more appealing than the bumbling Ron etc of Harry Potter. I liked Lucy. She seemed to capture a child-like rapture and faith. It's a good story, and I am sure that most people will enjoy it, but i am not sure that it will be the big conversion flick as promoted in some Christian circles. The parallelism is blindingly obvious as a Christian. However, if I did not know the Christian narrative, I am not so sure that I would come out wondering about Jesus (factoring out the possibility of a sovereign act of God).

Having said that, the film impacted me more on a spiritual level than possibly anything else I have seen in a good while. Edmund is deliciously naughty, and one feels torn between compassion for him and despising his flaws that enable him to betray his family for "a few sweeties" as the wily queen of ice points out. The audience obviously does not want him to perish for his crimes, as it seems as though he suffered enough. Yet the price had to be paid for the sake of the magic of the land. Easy to accept in a fantasy world. A hard truth to grapple with in our earthy existence. Why not forgive and forget? The incredible sacrifice of Aslan the lion is moving, and seems hugely unfair. Beautifully told, Clive Staples Lewis. In these scenes he captures the incredible act of Jesus with great simplicity and power, in a way that makes sense and breaks the heart. The quality of the film rendition scarcely matters here. The point is made, deeply. My connection with the salvation story throughout this film was deeper than I can express in words.

Another part that spoke to me was earlier in the film, when Peter is beset by a taunting wolf. Aslan saves him from the others that would otherwise have overpowered Peter, and one of Aslan's army offers to do away with the remaining wolf. Aslan stops him, saying that Peter was to fight this one himself. We are not just passive recipients of God's protection, provision. We need to stand! God will not let us be overcome, but we can have victory over the things that come our way, knowing that God is there with us in the midst of the battle. It was a defining moment for Peter – his first kill, and the seed of his courage was born. The Christian life is not an easy one, it is not simply a lovely little walk in the park. It is rough, dangerous, exciting, and one that requires courage. Courage that is founded in God, but exercised by us.